Cardi B's Photoshop mistake might end up costing her a ton of money

Cardi B's Photoshop mistake might end up costing her a ton of money

"Uh, dad, who's that!? ... "

MusicOctober 11, 2019 By Brian Frederick

Being shoved between Cardi B’s legs seems like it would make for awkward table talk with the family. But is it worth $5 million? A heavily tattooed California resident seems to think so. In 2016, his likeness was used in front of the rapper’s crotch on an album cover without his permission. So, he sued. 

And in late August, U.S. District Court Judge Cormac Carney (great name) rejected Cardi’s motion to dismiss the case. He’s allowing it to move forward. Things could get interesting if this thing goes all the way …

Despite her ubiquity now, there was a time in America when hip-hop diva Cardi B was an unknown, a struggling artist just trying to get her name out there like everyone else. Her debut mixtape, Gangsta Bitch Music, Vol. 1, is credited for giving her a boost into the mainstream. 

It also shows Kevin Brophy Jr. kinda going down on her. But it's not him. It's another dude without the right tattoos, who then had Brophy’s unique tiger fighting a snake tattoo Photoshopped onto his back ... kinda going down on her. In the lawsuit, Brophy says that after the mixtape was released, it ignited all kinds of weird conversations with family and friends. His 5-year-old son even asked what the hell he was doing with another woman. 

His face isn’t shown, but his tattoos are. And for some, that’s enough to be recognized. The court seems to agree.

The album cover, even if the imagery of it is trying to flip the blatant misogyny of hip-hop’s history on its head, is arguably trashy. This is what Brophy’s suit highlights. To him, it’s an embarrassment. He’s seeking damages of $5 million because he never wanted to be shown between Cardi B’s legs, Photoshopped or not. 

Cardi’s legal team argues his tattoos are widely shared online, that there is no copyright, they don’t need permission. Cardi also says she’s too busy being a mother to deal with “some bullshit.”

"I'm really upset because I really have to be with my kid," she said in a court deposition. "All because of some bullshit trying to get money and then $5,000,000. Are you fucking kidding me? That mixtape didn't even make, not even a million dollars. I got real lawsuits with real shit, and I got to deal with this bullshit. This is four hours long taking away from my time, my job, my motherhood."

Remember: this is the same artist who tried to copyright the sound “okurrr” a few months back. What would she say if Taylor Swift started using “okurrr” in Pepsi commercials without permission?

To be fair, what Cardi and her team argue may be true. It’s a lot of money. And Internet content is in a Wild West scenario right now. But it isn’t the first time art, even specifically tattoos, ended up in copyright battles. 

You know Mike Tyson’s face. In 2011, the artist of his tribal tattoo sued Warner Bros. for featuring it in the Hangover II movie. They didn’t seek his permission to use it, and more often than not, tattoo artists own what they ink on your body. For that, the two parties reached a settlement. Probably not for $5 million. But any money is better than no money. Amiright?

More recently, street artist Revok sent a cease and desist letter to clothing outlet H&M, alleging it illegally used his street artwork in an ad (it happened to be on a wall where the commercial was being filmed). The case also settled with an undisclosed amount — though the artist said both would be donating to Detroit arts foundations because of it.

Does Brophy have a valid case? Yeah. But we probably won’t hear how the saga finishes. Hollywood loves its non-disclosures. The judge allowing this one to continue should signal to creatives though: don’t steal. Copyright everything. You never know who you’ll end up going down on.